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Guilty Conscience: What It Is & 21 Emotional Signs of Guilt People Feel

Honesty is the foundation that which relationships are built upon. But sometimes people hide things from others. So, here are the signs of a guilty conscience.

signs of a guilty conscience

Now, you may be squeaky clean yourself. You’re honest with your partner and haven’t thought of lying to them once. But you have this strange feeling like they’re hiding something from you. To be honest, you’ll never know if they’re lying to you or not, but there are signs of a guilty conscience. Watch and see if they point in that direction.

What is guilt and a guilty conscience?

Everyone has felt it from time to time in their lives. But sometimes guilt is an emotion that isn’t so easy to define. You can feel guilty for thinking certain things or even for something you’ve never done. 

For example, if you have sexual thoughts for someone other than your partner, you can feel guilty. You haven’t done anything wrong, but you feel guilty for thinking those thoughts. Or, you might simply feel guilty for not being more affectionate to your partner.

Usually, guilt is meant to keep people trustworthy, moral, and make the right decisions. If what you do or don’t do gets negative emotions or outcomes from other people, then guilt will tell you that you did something wrong. 

Guilt can also be related to feeling shame. When people do something wrong, they can feel guilty, and as a result, be shameful of it too. [Read: Is he hiding something? 20 signs he feels guilty for hurting you]

Sometimes guilt can even turn excessive and long-term. The guilty person could have anxious obsessions, get depressed, or have other physical symptoms if the guilt isn’t resolved.

The subtle signs of a guilty conscience that grow over time

A lot of people aren’t perfect. In many relationships, people are really dishonest and hide things from their partners because they are scared of their reactions.

Of course, if the relationship ends, they might finally figure out that without honesty, they won’t be able to have a healthy relationship.

They also probably find out that their personal well-being is drastically affected because of the build-up of lies and deception they made. They might have thought they would be able to brush it off and keep on going with their life.

But life has that funny way of reminding you constantly of what you did wrong. No one can hide guilt that well. [Read: How to stop lying to yourself and your loved ones]

1. They’re suddenly nice

Now, they usually may be nice but suddenly out of nowhere, they’re being extra nice. And no, it’s not your birthday or any other major holiday. It’s a Tuesday.

If they’re never this nice and they pop out all the big moves and gestures, they may overcompensate because of guilt. Now, we don’t know what they did, so don’t go assuming the worst, but, they clearly feel bad about something. [Read: The warning signs of toxic people to watch out for]

2. They can’t look you in the eyes

Eye contact is one of the biggest signs of a guilty conscience. We all know how easy it is to see what’s going on with someone when you look them in the eyes. If someone avoids eye contact with you, it’s a classic sign of guilt.

If someone feels extremely guilty, they avoid looking at you directly as they’re ashamed of what they’ve done. They’re also scared you’ll find out. [Read: 13 giveaways to tell if someone is lying to your face]

3. They accuse you

This is a common thing that guilty people do. Firstly, they become defensive if you confront them. Then, they flip the situation onto you, claiming that you’re the one doing something wrong.

This is called “projection.” It happens when someone feels guilty so they need to move the guilt onto someone else. If they’re accusing you of something you didn’t do, you should wonder if they did it themselves. [Read: 23 secret signs of narcissism most people overlook until it’s too late]

4. They can’t sleep properly

When it’s time to go to bed, their mind works a mile a minute, unable to calm down. Now, there could be other reasons why they struggle with sleeping so don’t jump to a conclusion right away.

But usually, when we’re unable to sleep, it is because we’re busy thinking about a specific event and feeling anxious and stressed.

5. They’re avoiding you

And the best part is, you’ve done nothing wrong! A common sign of guilt is when someone intentionally avoids the person they’ve betrayed.

They feel that you may be able to see what they did. Thus, it’s better to hide from you. If they’re disappearing on a regular basis, the guilt is severe.

6. They’ve suddenly lost their appetite

When stressed, anxiety suppresses our appetites. So, unless they have a presentation for work, are studying for exams, have the flu, or have a family issue, there really shouldn’t be any reason why they wouldn’t eat.

A loss of appetite is caused by stress and anxiety. Now you need to ask yourself, why are they feeling like this?

7. They make an effort for small talk

When someone is guilty, they make more of an effort to engage in small talk, in hopes of getting other people to talk rather than them.

You’ll notice that they laugh at everything you say and almost come off as having desperate behavior. They’re compensating for lying to you, and this is one of those easiest signs of a guilty conscience that can be noticed rather easily. [Read: How to confront someone when you hate uncomfortable interaction]

8. They suck up to you on social media

What age have we come to that social media is used to aid guilt? But, these are the times that we’re in. If someone wants on your good side, you’ll be amazed at how vigilant they are on social media.

They will make sure they like all your photos, leave comments, and try to give the image that they’re in your good books.

9. They become emotional

If you confronted them, they may suddenly become emotional in front of you. When people become upset or emotional, it’s usually a good sign that they feel bad about what they did.

They want to reveal themselves, but they fear the consequences as well. This is why they suddenly have an emotional outburst. [Read: Feel guilty all the time? How to find the cause and get rid of it]

10. They’re anxious

When someone has a guilty conscience, they’re scared and anxious. They’re scared that it’s going to come out.

This, naturally, causes anxiety. You may notice them acting anxious around you. Because there’s something they want to tell you but are too terrified to share.

11. They lie

It’s one of the most common traits people use in order to make sure they save their own asses. Can you blame them? It’s actually a natural response when you experience anxiety.

Some of the lies can be small while others are big and life-altering. This avoids the feelings of guilt and moves past the issue without actually addressing it. [Read: 14 ways to confront different types of liars in your life]

12. Protective over their phone

It’s not as weird as it sounds since phones have now become our lifeline to the outside world. If they heavily guard their phone around you, perhaps there’s something on it that they don’t want you to see.

Maybe some self-incriminating information. Yes, they already feel the guilt! Hiding their phone is a way to keep you from finding out the truth.

13. They justify everything

If you feel like this person is making up excuses and trying to justify everything they say and do, then this is also a sign of a guilty conscience. They will even give excuses when they aren’t even necessary.

For example, if they are sharing all the reasons they need to do something or think something, they might be suffering from guilt. This is because they know that if you know the whole story, you might not agree with them. [Read: How to subtly make someone feel guilty and sense the pain they caused]

14. They overcompensate

If you notice that this person all of the sudden is appreciating you in ways that they don’t normally do, then that is suspicious.

They might normally take a lot of things for granted about you. But if now they are considerate in thoughtful ways, such as doing more chores or buying gifts, then this could be a big red flag.

15. Suddenly more or less interested in sex

If your romantic partner has a guilty conscience, then they might have a sudden change of interest in sex.

For example, if they’re cheating on you, then they might avoid having sex with you because they feel guilty *or can’t sexually perform with two different people within the same night*. Or, they might do the opposite – have more sex with you to show you that they aren’t cheating – even though they are.

16. Mood swings

When someone is carrying around a guilty conscience, it might affect all of their emotions. And if their emotions are not as stable as they normally are, they could have mood swings.

Maybe one minute they are really happy, and then the next they are yelling at you. If these mood swings seem to have no apparent cause, then that might be a red flag. [Read: Guilt complex – what to understand about this powerful emotion]

17. Unjustified plans

If this person suddenly has things to do that they don’t normally do, then that is suspicious.

For example, maybe they suddenly need to go to work on the weekend to “finish their presentation” or they are going out with work friends a lot more than normal. If these are out of character for that person, they might be trying to avoid you with these lame excuses.

18. Not as affectionate

When you know you did something wrong, you feel like a bad person *or at least you should*. Whether or not this person admits it to themselves in another story.

But maybe they are thinking that they don’t deserve love and affection because of something they did. This is probably happening on a subconscious level, but they are secretly “punishing themselves” by denying themselves affection from you.

19. Their story keeps changing

When you ask them about things going on in their lives, they might tell you a story one day, and then the next, you will get a different one.

That’s because when someone lies and tries to cover up their tracks, sometimes they forget the lies they told. So, because their memory of the lies isn’t good, they keep changing their story. [Read: Guilt tripping in a relationship – What it is and how to respond to it]

20. Friends act uncomfortable

Maybe you have a group of friends that you all hang out with. And if you notice that some or all of the friends start to act weird or uncomfortable around you – or them – then this could be another sign that someone has a guilty conscience.

They don’t want to spill the beans about the secret, but they also feel bad for not telling you too.

21. Unusual spending habits

If you’re married and/or have access to how they spend their money, they might be spending a lot more than they normally do.

Or, on the flip side, they might be spending less because they feel guilty about something they did. So, watch their spending habits to look for any unusual changes. [Read: 10 guiltfree ways to handle the guilt trippers in your life]

Should you stick around with someone who’s playing you?

Since you are reading this feature, you obviously think that someone in your life has a guilty conscience. While no one is perfect, you still deserve to have honest and trustworthy people in your life. You might want to re-think the relationship. 

If after reading this, you feel that they’re deceiving you, you need to then figure out if you even want to keep this relationship going or just cut it and move on.

[Read: How to make someone feel guilty and understand the pain they caused you]

You know the signs of a guilty conscience now. Do you think that your friend, family member, or significant other has one? And if so, what are you going to do about it now?

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...